Of all the verses of scripture that tell the story of Christmas, of all the books written and sermons preached about the coming of the Christ Child into our world, nothing has ever surpassed the words in the Gospel of Matthew: “and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23, NRSV).

God is with us! This is the promise of Christmas and the very heart of the holiday.

The lights, the food, the gifts, the carols, the traditions, the bustle and busyness—truthfully, I’m quite at ease with all of it. It is such a special time each year.

I look forward to being with family, with sharing time and gifts with one another. I look forward to the special treats and sweets that will be on our table. I love catching up with family and friends through cards and holiday notes.

The holiday events that dot our personal and professional calendars are all terrific ways to be reminded of our blessings, of how fortunate we are to share our lives (and often, our faith) with one another.

Often we are reminded that the holidays can also be a burden, or a time of anxiety, for many people. But this too is part of how we “keep” the holiday—through being aware of the needs of others. The Christmas story invites us to open our hearts and to let the miracle of Emmanuel—God With Us—be expressed with grace and generosity.

“O come, o come, Emmanuel,” are the words to one of my favorite carols. If your celebration of Christmas is one of faith, may this be our shared prayer: O Come, Emmanuel! God with us, God in us, God empowered and enthroned. Be born anew in our hearts. Come as the author of our salvation and the finisher of our faith. Come with power to heal, power to forgive, and power to restore. O come to us, abide with us, O Lord Emmanuel!

In this celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, grant that we, who with wonder welcome Him as a babe in the manger, may with joyous confidence receive Him as the King of Kings in our hearts and the Lord of Lords in our lives.